Coalition of Journalism Groups Denounce Obama Administration for “Politically-Driven Suppression of the News”

100px-Society_of_Professional_Journalists_logoPresident_Barack_ObamaWe have previously discussed the attacks by the Obama Administration on civil liberties and privacy. Obama has also been accused of attacks on press freedoms — resulting in a sharp decline in the standing of the United States on press rights. Now 38 journalism groups have denounced the Obama Administration for censoring media coverage, limiting access to top officials and overall “politically-driven suppression of the news.”

The letter to President Obama is led by the widely respected Society of Professional Journalists. The media has previously denounced the Nixonian surveillance on individual journalists ordered by this Administration. The letter singles out Obama’s breaking of his campaign pledge to have the most transparent Administration in history. Instead, the Obama Administration has equalled or even surpassed the Bush Administration in secrecy and hostility to public or press access to information. While cutting of access of the media, however, these media organization accuse the Obama Administration of giving wide access to lobbyists, special interests and “people with money.”

Once again, the White House has a virtually army of commenters and blog surfers who continually deflect such criticism by referring to how much worse the Republicans are or simply changing the subject. However, the mounting attacks on civil liberties by this Administration has gutted the foundational principles of the Democratic party and virtually destroyed the American civil liberties movement. What is left the power of personality over principle. However, this will not our last president. When he leaves, he will leave little in his wake beyond hypocrisy for those who have remained silent in the face of the abuses. It is the victory of the “blue state/red state” construct that maintain the duopoly of the two parties. Each party excuses its failures by referring to the other as the worst of two evils. For years, Democrats and liberals have supported Obama as he has attacked the defining values that were once the Democratic party. The fact that this letter is even necessary is a shocking statement on the state of American press freedom.

The letter is below:

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C
July 8, 2014

Mr. President,

You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government. You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.

Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees. This trend has been especially pronounced in the federal government. We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.

The stifling of free expression is happening despite your pledge on your first day in office to bring “a new era of openness” to federal government – and the subsequent executive orders and directives which were supposed to bring such openness about.

Recent research has indicated the problem is getting worse throughout the nation, particularly at the federal level. Journalists are reporting that most federal agencies prohibit their employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations. Contact is often blocked completely. When public affairs officers speak, even about routine public matters, they often do so confidentially in spite of having the title “spokesperson.” Reporters seeking interviews are expected to seek permission, often providing questions in advance. Delays can stretch for days, longer than most deadlines allow. Public affairs officers might send their own written responses of slick non-answers. Agencies hold on-background press conferences with unnamed officials, on a not-for-attribution basis.

In many cases, this is clearly being done to control what information journalists – and the audience they serve – have access to. A survey found 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted they blocked certain reporters because they did not like what they wrote.

Some argue that controlling media access is needed to ensure information going out is correct. But when journalists cannot interview agency staff, or can only do so under surveillance, it undermines public understanding of, and trust in, government. This is not a “press vs. government” issue. This is about fostering a strong democracy where people have the information they need to self-govern and trust in its governmental institutions.

It has not always been this way. In prior years, reporters walked the halls of agencies and called staff people at will. Only in the past two administrations have media access controls been tightened at most agencies. Under this administration, even non-defense agencies have asserted in writing their power to prohibit contact with journalists without surveillance. Meanwhile, agency personnel are free speak to others — lobbyists, special-interest representatives, people with money — without these controls and without public oversight.

Here are some recent examples:

• The New York Times ran a story last December on the soon-to-be implemented ICD-10 medical coding system, a massive change for the health care system that will affect the whole public. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), one of the federal agencies in charge of ICD-10, wouldn’t allow staff to talk to the reporter.

• A reporter with Investigative Post, an online news organization in New York, asked three times without success over the span of six weeks to have someone at EPA answer questions about the agency’s actions regarding the city of Buffalo’s alleged mishandling of “universal waste” and hazardous waste.

• A journalist with Reuters spent more than a month trying to get EPA’s public affairs office to approve him talking with an agency scientist about the effects of climate change. The public affairs officer did not respond to him after his initial request, nor did her supervisor, until the frustrated journalist went over their heads and contacted EPA’s chief of staff.

The undersigned organizations ask that you seek an end to this restraint on communication in federal agencies. We ask that you issue a clear directive telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so. We believe that is one of the most important things you can do for the nation now, before the policies become even more entrenched.

We also ask you provide an avenue through which any incidents of this suppression of communication may be reported and corrected. Create an ombudsman to monitor and enforce your stated goal of restoring transparency to government and giving the public the unvarnished truth about its workings. That will go a long way toward dispelling Americans’ frustration and cynicism before it further poisons our democracy.

Further examples on the issue are provided as well as other resources.


David Cuillier
Society of Professional Journalists

Beth Parke
Executive Director
Society of Environmental Journalists

Kathryn Foxhall
Society of Professional Journalists

Holly Spangler
American Agricultural Editors’ Association

Gil Gullickson
Board Chair
American Agricultural Editors’ Association Professional Improvement Foundation

Alexandra Cantor Owens
Executive Director
American Society of Journalists and Authors

Janet Svazas
Executive Director
American Society of Business Publication Editors

David Boardman
American Society of News Editors

Hoda Osman
Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association

Kathy Chow
Executive Director
Asian American Journalists Association

Diana Mitsu Klos
Executive Director
Associated Collegiate Press

Paula Poindexter
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

Miriam Pepper
Association of Opinion Journalists

Lisa Graves
Executive Director
Center for Media and Democracy

Rachele Kanigel
College Media Association

Gay Porter DeNileon
Colorado Press Women

Sue Udry
Executive Director
Defending Dissent Foundation

Mark Newton
Journalism Education Association

Mark Horvit
Executive Director
Investigative Reporters and Editors

J.H. Snider

Phyllis J. Griekspoor
North American Agricultural Journalists

Carol Pierce
Executive Director
National Federation of Press Women

Robert M. Williams Jr.
National Newspaper Association

Bob Meyers
National Press Foundation

Charles Deale
Executive Director
National Press Photographers Association

Diana Mitsu Klos
Executive Director
National Scholastic Press Association

Mary Hudetz
Native American Journalists Association

Jane McDonnell
Executive Director
Online News Association

Patrice McDermott
Executive Director

Tim Franklin
The Poynter Institute

Danielle Brian
Executive Director
Project on Government Oversight

Jeff Ruch
Executive Director
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

George Bodarky
Public Radio News Directors Incorporated

Mike Cavender
Executive Director
Radio Television Digital News Association

Herb Jackson
Regional Reporters Association

Christophe Deloire
Secretary General
Reporters without Borders

Frank LoMonte
Executive Director
Student Press Law Center

Roy S. Gutterman
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University

David Steinberg
UNITY Journalists for Diversity

229 thoughts on “Coalition of Journalism Groups Denounce Obama Administration for “Politically-Driven Suppression of the News””

  1. John,

    Do you have any thoughts about the suppression of free speech by Obama, regardless of his parent’s birth origin?

    For example, what do you think of Obama’s working hand in hand with the British govt. to destroy Snowden’s documents at the Guardian?

    1. Jill,
      My position is exactly as was originally intended; the citizens empower a government for the security of unalienable rights. That’s where I begin and I don’t discriminate by party or ideology.

      I don’t believe government employees can be constitutionally compelled to violate the first duty of government; securing the rights of its citizens. There must be an avenue for the employees to raise concerns regarding suspected constitutional violations without fear of retribution. The Whistleblower Protection Act, as I understand it, provides that avenue but I’m not certain that works as advertised.

      I don’t believe the framers ever wanted the citizens to trust government to the point they were no longer required to account for their actions. I believe they understood human nature better than most people today. While nearly every aspect of civilization does change or “progress” from where it was, human nature does not. A civil society really needs only enough government to secure rights, and no more. Believing a government will limit itself to only those powers necessary to accomplish this purpose is pure ignorance. Denying oneself the opportunity to learn why this is true, after being exposed to the possibility; well, that’s willful ignorance. In my opinion, that is the lowest form of citizenship.

      Every document that Snowden took should be preserved to determine the extent, if any, of violations of the rights of the citizens. As with the IRS scandal, the destruction of possible evidence must be considered as an attempt to prevent the truth of government abuse from being exposed. Our government should NEVER be considered innocent until proven guilty.

  2. Max,
    I did miss you making that clear, twice. My apologies.

    Regarding the “Kenyan Muslim” issue; He clearly is of a Kenyan father but I don’t believe any evidence has been provided that he follows the Muslim religion. No one but he knows what’s in his heart and being Muslim shouldn’t disqualify anyone from the office.

    I understand M.A. would like the “legal” debate over the natural-born citizen to be closed. The unfortunate fact is the issue would be closed had this President not lived up to Vattel’s argument on “why” this requirement should be enforced.

  3. LDL, AI is back! O.K. Thank you for telling us again about Romney.

    Now what do you think of Obama being in on the destruction of Snowden’s documents?

  4. The goal of any victim and/or person (yours truly) fighting great powers that (such as Manning, Snowden, Assange, David Weber of SEC {look it up}) – when we go to the main stream about a story – is to

    Garnish qualitative attention to a particular

    in hopes of their re-tell to quantitative persons

    to achieve a result

    Romney owns Bain that owns Clear Channel (800 stations with Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck etc.,), Faux News and special interests own WaPo and WSJ.

    We get “their” words, sounds and pictures still and/or moving;
    for the sake of results that are usually agendas veiled.

    This realm is no different. The Professor prints and/or allows to be typed upon this virtual realm, those items they think noteworthy for the sake of.

    Bias is as bias does!

    I’m just sayin……………………………..

  5. More press freedom authorized by great defender of freedom around the world–President Obama!!!

    ” Due to heavy redactions in the FOIA responses, it is not known whether the NSA communicated with British intelligence during the raids, or whether the US government pressurised Downing Street into authorising them.

    In a statement to the AP, the Guardian said it was disappointed to learn that “cross-Atlantic conversations were taking place at the very highest levels of government ahead of the bizarre destruction of journalistic material that took place in the Guardian’s basement last July.”

    “What’s perhaps most concerning is that the disclosure of these emails appears to contradict the White House’s comments about these events last year, when they questioned the appropriateness of the U.K. government’s intervention,” the newspaper said. ” see at naked capitalism.

  6. John Oliver
    In 2008 my father was calling Obama a Kenyan Muslim…
    … What group think produced that whopper?

    And to think…
    … You attack independent thought as some progressive conspiracy.

    Have I misunderstood you, yet?

  7. Saucy,
    Specifically… Was the report I posted incorrect?
    Please link it if it was because throwing straw men at “IT” reveals ulterior motives.

    ABCNNBCBS&FOXNEWS propagandize Americans regularly with lies… ER, misinfo, ER, disinformation. This happened the other day… Sympathetic reporting, or a bad Teleprompter feed. With a smooth read? You decide… They had to issue a recorrection because of the ridicule. Good thing too. Imagine had no one spoke up.

    Now, should I start linking to FOXNews(R)?

  8. John Oliver,
    I don’t get you…
    I’ve clearly stated this is my father and NOT my grandfather, twice in specific replies to you. And when I do open up to you about what propaganda has done to him, you kick me in the nuts.

    Go figure…

  9. The proof is in the pudding with the tastiest serving being Arthur who was so convinced of the requirement of two citizen-parents, he was compelled to lie. All of Arthur’s predecessors were natural born citizens with two citizen-parents.


    “”All presidents born after 1787, except for Chester Arthur and Barack Obama, met the “natural born Citizen” criteria, i.e., born on U.S. soil to a mother and father who were themselves U.S. citizens at the time of the President’s birth. Neither Arthur nor Obama were “natural born Citizens” at the time of birth. Arthur was born to an alien father who also made his U.S. citizen mother an alien. Obama was born to a non-U.S. citizen father who never became a U.S. citizen and, being here only on a temporary student visa, was never even an immigrant. There have been 46 Americans that have served as Vice-President (not including Mr. Biden). Ten were born before 1787. All Vice-Presidents born after 1787, except for Chester Arthur, met the “natural born Citizen” criteria. Fourteen Vice Presidents have gone on to be President.””

  10. MA,

    I did not address you directly. I responded to another party. I don’t set the topic of debate on this thread and I have no desire to present the truth and facts to someone compelled by ideology to ignore them.

    I believe there exists a difference of opinion and intent between you and the Founders. Perhaps you should take your deficit in the matter up with them. It’s akin to saying the Founders implemented redistribution of wealth and governmental control of the economy. That could not possibly have been further from the truth yet America currently is a collectivist state fully engaged in redistribution with its government in full control of the economy. Somehow, the intent of the Founders was misconstrued and lost. How and why did the Supreme Court fail the Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights?

    It is also interesting that lawyers, firms, a judge and a jury determined OJ Simpson to be innocent of murder as 7 Billion citizens on the planet observed the facts and knew him to be guilty.

    I referred to the comments of one Ben Franklin who stated clearly that the Law of Nations was “pounced upon.”

    In letter form, Jay and Washington agreed to raise or increase the requirement to the highest status of citizenship for the office of the President and Commander In Chief, to avoid foreign allegiances, something that is eminently intuitive. Jay, Washington et. al. raised the requirement at the last minute, clearly demonstrating a break with English law, and they DID NOT quote English or any other body of law. Vattel was most similar. It is preposterous to suggest, after reading the Jay/Washington letter, that the son of a foreign citizen father, having only one parent, a mother, who was an American citizen, would be allowed to become the President and Commander in Chief.

    Statements were made by Founders specifically rejecting the law of England:

    “”Given the profound differences between the citizenship rules associated with the English common law and those connected with American national citizenship, it is evident that the Founders did not use English common law to define what an Article II “natural born Citizen” is but rather used the law of nations for that purpose which became incorporated into and became federal common law.


    George Mason, the “Father of the Bill of Rights” and one of the “Founding Fathers” of the United States, proclaimed:

    “The common law of England is not the common law of these states.”

    ( Debate in Virginia Ratifying Convention, 19 June 1788).


    To the extent that the English common law was relied upon in the colonies and States, that law was at the time that the Constitution was adopted “to a greater or less extent, recognized as the law of the States by which the Constitution was adopted.” The English common law would, however, be applied to determine questions of citizenship only if the written law was silent, i.e., there was no statute or federal or state court decision on the subject. Ludlam, Excutrix, & c., v. Ludlam, 26 N.Y. 356 (1863). But the Founders did not rely upon the English common law to define the new national United States citizenship that they created for the new Constitutional Republic. Rather, the Founders replaced the English common law with the law of nations which became the new U.S. federal common law and the law of the federal government.””

    I wonder what the American Revolution accomplished if not rejection of
    everything English. These seem like points that might be understood even by Obama apologists.

    I am inordinately pleased to hear your final ruling in this matter. I am not sure it demonstrates particular insight, accuracy or veracity. I know it doesn’t reflect anything factual.

  11. Bob Esq: An article in Vanity Fair reported that the Guardian stored the Snowden files in a vaulted room on computers that had never been connected to the internet. Cell phones were not allowed into the room, not even when turned off; the NSA has the capability to activate them and download information off computers. Oddly, paper cups were not allowed into the room either. Now what can the NSA do with paper cups?

  12. John:

    The “natural born citizen” issue was litigated to death on this site several years ago. You are welcome to visit those exchanges if you wish, but the Founders relied upon the law of England on the issue of citizenship. Vattel was a continental writer of great importance, but not on this issue in this country. I doubt that anyone wishes to rehash all of the old arguments. If you take a look at the old threads, you’ll understand why.

  13. “Dredd John, You are such a John. The presstitutes “love” you.”

    I’ll take that as a compliment. I think you agree with me…and the facts and the truth.

  14. When Ben Franklin received copies of Vattel’s work, he said they were “pounced on.”

    A child born of a single citizen-parent or no citizen-parents is a CITIZEN not a NATURAL BORN CITIZEN.

    The SCOTUS should have denied eligibility.

    If the case was never “brought,” Nancy Pelosi should be prosecuted for malfeasance, malicious negligence and dereliction of duty as the Speaker vets candidates.

    There is a reason criteria are applied for eligibility for the presidency.

  15. Newly Obtained Emails Contradict Administration Claims on Guardian Laptop Destruction

    By Glenn Greenwald 11 Jul 2014, 11:46 AM EDT

    On July 20, 2013, agents of the U.K. government entered The Guardian newsroom in London and compelled them to physically destroy the computers they were using to report on the Edward Snowden archive. The Guardian reported this a month later after my partner, David Miranda, was detained at Heathrow Airport for 11 hours under a British terrorism law and had all of his electronic equipment seized. At the time, the Obama administration—while admitting that it was told in advance of the Heathrow detention—pretended that it knew nothing about the forced laptop destruction and would never approve of such attacks on press freedom. From the August 20, 2013, press briefing by then-deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest:

    Q: A last one on the NSA—The Guardian newspaper, following on everything that was discussed yesterday—The Guardian is saying that British authorities destroyed several hard drives, because they wanted to keep secrets that Edward Snowden had leaked from actually getting out. They were stored in The Guardian‘s—they had some hard drives there at their offices. British authorities went in there and destroyed these hard drives. Did the American government get a heads up about that the way you did about the person being detained?

    MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen the published reports of those accusations, but I don’t have any information for you on that.

    Q: And does the U.S. government think it’s appropriate for a government, especially one of our allies, to go in and destroy hard drives? Is that something this administration would do?

    MR. EARNEST: The only thing I know about this are the public reports about this, so it’s hard for me to evaluate the propriety of what they did based on incomplete knowledge of what happened.

    Q: But this administration would not do that, would not go into an American media company and destroy hard drives, even if it meant trying to protect national security, you don’t think?

    MR. EARNEST: It’s very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate.

    But emails just obtained by Associated Press pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) prove that senior Obama national security officials— including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-NSA chief Keith Alexander—not only knew in advance that U.K. officials intended to force The Guardian to destroy their computers, but overtly celebrated it.


  16. NSA chief knew of Snowden file destruction by Guardian in UK

    Revelation contrasts markedly with White House efforts to distance itself from UK government pressure to destroy disks

    General Keith Alexander, the then director of the NSA, was briefed that the Guardian was prepared to make a largely symbolic act of destroying documents from Edward Snowden last July, new documents reveal.

    The revelation that Alexander and Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, were advised on the Guardian’s destruction of several hard disks and laptops contrasts markedly with public White House statements that distanced the US from the decision.

    White House and NSA emails obtained by Associated Press under freedom of information legislation demonstrate how pleased Alexander and his colleagues were with the developments. At times the correspondence takes a celebratory tone, with one official describing the anticipated destruction as “good news”.

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